24th May2013

West Week Ever – 5/24/13

by Will
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Who had the West Week Ever? Read on and find out!

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Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting New Jersey. Could you hear my sarcasm? Anyway, it was a good trip ’cause I got to see my sword brother, Keith, but it had its highs and its lows. On Saturday night, we went to what was billed as “live band karaoke”, which sounded awesome! In reality, however, it was not what one might expect. There was a house band called Deep Fried Thorn, who didn’t suck, but they were mainly there to play themselves. If you wanted to sing a song on their setlist, you were welcome to do so, but their levels were off, and the music was too loud for the venue. I just didn’t feel comfortable there. While I’m used to all-white crowds, this one didn’t seem too welcoming. I guess I was standing too close to the pickup station, as a waitress pushed me out of her way and into a chair. This triggered my assholosity, and I looked for a way to take my anger out on the whole place. When it was my turn (I sang Ain’t Too Proud To Beg), I got to the mic, and said, “Hi, I’m Will, and I’ll be your black guy for the evening.” Yeah, that didn’t go over so well. Not knowing when to quit, I looked at the nearest patron (who was looking at me quizzically), and said, “Yeah, don’t think that I didn’t notice.” Anyway, the rest of the weekend was good. We ate lots of good food, we made plans for our joint venture, Kill Industries, and I got to see my bud.

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Oh, we also saw Star Trek Into Darkness. I really enjoyed it. It’s not “Star Trek”, but it was still enjoyable. Not even joining the Star Trek Alice Eve hoopla. I love Alice Eve in underwear – I think it’s in her contract. If you wanna be upset about something, be upset at how they depicted being attacked while in warp. That shit will fuck you up. They should’ve, at the very least, lost a nacelle from that. I mean, it should have been torn completely off its housing, and lost to space. They just don’t spin out of it like a car hitting a patch of black ice. That should’ve have been CATASTROPHIC. But whatever.

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I had a weird epiphany over the weekend. You see, I have this routine I do at restaurants: when I order Diet Coke, if they say “I’m sorry, but all we have is Pepsi”, I reply, “I THOUGHT THIS WAS AMERICA!” Only, last weekend, I realized that I prefer Pepsi – at least the diet variety. Maybe it’s because we’ve had SO much Diet Coke at home that its lost all appeal. It reminds me of college: I ended up kicking soda for a year and a half because it had lost all effect. I was drinking 2 liters of Wild Cherry Pepsi a day, and I eventually couldn’t even taste it anymore. I was just chugging it for the burn. So, I went cold turkey. Diet Coke has a similar effect for me now. So, for the time being, make mine Pepsi!

I also took on the Herculean task of getting one of my email accounts in order. In case you didn’t know, I own williambrucewest at everything except AOL. Well, I still have my college account redirected to my Hotmail/Outlook account, and it was at 78 pages. Yeah, I had stuff going back to 2006, which was the last time I’d even attempted to keep it under control. Now I’m at 4 pages, but I’m still striving for Inbox Zero. Over the weekend, I’m going to tackle Gmail.

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Anyone remember when I wrote about Xuxa a few months back? Well, I got the best comment on it the other day about America’s “cold and dirty minds”. Go check it out.

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Why has no one come up with the Jail Body Workout (#fitness)? I never, never, never, never, never wanna end up in jail, but if I ever do, three things will happen:

1) I’ll become well-read

2) I’ll get closer to God

3) I’ll get an amazing, jacked body

There should be a DVD for the Jail Body Workout, and it’d come with a pocket copy of the Qur’an (I used that spelling ’cause I’m really into apostrophes right now. So hot.). It can’t be hosted by Shaun T, though – his ass would never make it out alive.

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Haha, Morgan Freeman fell asleep during an interview! He also used to fuck his step-granddaughter, but we casually forgot that. Just like we forgot Jerry Seinfeld both dated a minor and stole his current wife away from her husband while she was on her honeymoon. Oh, but Michael Vick and Chris Brown are still assholes. God bless America’s selective memory!

So nice of the Boys Scouts to let in gay members, ’cause of course those kids’ll grow out of it by the time they’re scout leaders, right? Right? Ugh…

I ever tell you about the time I slept over at my ex’s parents’ house, and they put me in a room with several Rolexes sitting casually on a dresser. I’ve always thought that was a test. I passed. And now I ain’t got no Rolex. Random, I know.

Links I Loved
Taxi vs. Hill Street Blues: Battle of the TV Show Intros – The Robot’s Pajamas

A Raging Nerdgasm/Real Toy Hunting moment – my greatest wants acquired – Raging Nerdgasm

The Weekly Scoop: Underwear Uproar, Mini He-Man, and this Human Torch will not be denied a bank loan – UnderScoopFire!

What’s the most dangerous job in comics? – Cold Slither Podcast

A new podcast hit the streets recently, filled with folks I enjoy – head over to the Cold Slither Podcast, to hear Nicju and R2thaEdgy’s new show, “What’s The Tea?”

This Week’s Posts

Best of the West #3: Knight Rider Knight 2000 Voice Car

Collegiate Conundrum OR Reunited and Feels So Bad?

Thrift Justice – Hell Naw! Are You For Real?

One’s out of our league, while the others are too cool for school. One’s taking a nap, while the other’s taking a plea. Only one, however, could have the West Week Ever!

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Anyone who knows of my love for TNBC should’ve seen this coming. This week marks the 20th anniversary of the original Bayside gang’s graduation from high school. Yes, you’re that old! Like it or not, Saved by the Bell was a definitive pop culture milestone of the early 90s. For many of us, it gave us false expectations of what high school would be like. For others, it was our introduction to our first “feminist”. Either way, it’s been 20 years since they walked across that stage and got their diplomas from Mr. Belding. They’ve gone on to be strippers, game show hosts, cops, soap opera actresses, and more, but they’ll always be the Saved by the Bell kids.

I often wonder where they might be today. Lisa’s, no doubt, a fashion designer. If that didn’t work out, then she’s an on-air personality for E! Jessie’s an attorney, annoying the shit out of clients and judges alike. Slater blew out his knee and is probably an on-air personality for ESPN. Screech probably invented FaceSter, but Zack ends up with all the credit and the money. Speaking of Zack, he and Kelly have been divorced for about 12 years now. I know it was a kids show, but I never bought their whole “true love” angle. Zack was used to getting whatever he wanted, and Kelly was the one thing he had to work to get. He simply wanted what he couldn’t have, and once he got her, I’m sure he lost interest. Kelly, meanwhile, is a happy mom to 6 kids (remember, the Kapowskis were fertile) and is married to her second husband, Jeff. Yes, THAT Jeff. Oh, and The Max is now a national chain and can usually be found in the same shopping centers as Ernie’s Gym & Juice Bar franchises. Anyway, for touching our childhood (no MJ!), and for enduring all these years, the kids from Bayside High Class of ’93 had the West Week Ever.

03rd Jan2013

West YEAR Ever – 2012

by Will

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A year that began pretty shitty turned out rather well. I started the year with a bad cold, which led to me being sick every 3 months throughout the year. Then, I lost my job in May. Once summer hit, things started to get better. I got a BETTER job, I attended the weddings of 2 great friends, and I got married. Yay! I spend a ton of time online, so I figured we’d talk about that a bit, with a twist: we’ll cover the wedding in pics and the online in words. DEEP!

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Don’t worry, black folks. There was another black girl. She was late. Go figure…

I no longer feel the need to be Top Dog in the nerd game. I was discussing this with someone who has ambitious goals to take over the internet toyverse. It’s admirable, but I asked, “What then?” It’s like the supervillain who wants to rule the world. What does he do once he gets it? I used to want to be Nerd King. I wanted to be America’s Next Top Blerd. Try as I might, no one was looking to fill that position. Hell, at this point, I’d settle for “Top Blerd of Lower Montgomery County Between The Hours of 6 and 8 PM”. I mean, I’ve worked hard, but there are others who have worked harder and longer. Plus, what’s to be gained at the top? It just makes you a target for others “gunning for the title”. It can be lonely at the top, the middle, AND the bottom.

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I got to marry HER. I already won. 

I’ve been doing this 10 years. Some years were more active than others, but I’ve come to realize that I just want to carve out my own niche, rather than unseat someone. I think this has been more pronounced since the recent changing of the guard over at Topless Robot. When the job was posted, a lot of us started wondering if we had the chops. I thought I could do it, but I simply didn’t have the readership. Hell, it’s just 3 parts linkblogging, 2 parts snark. Still, no one knows who I am. I’m not active on any boards, nor am I a regular commentor anywhere; I tend to keep to myself. Also, I said it then, and I’ll say it again: I don’t wish that job on my worst enemy. There’s NO WAY you’re going to “properly” replace Rob Bricken in the eyes of fans, nor should you really be expected to do so. Still, that person is going to have to prove himself, as Luke Y. Thompson is learning. No matter how hard he works, for now, he’s simply “Not Rob”. Just look at the comments on recent posts. Rob-era posts had comment threads into the hundreds, while most recent comment threads max out at about 14. Village Media can’t be too happy about this, but I don’t think LYT is to blame. TR was popular BECAUSE of Rob. It WAS Rob. THAT is what we should be striving toward: creating something that is OURS. No more of this “I want to rule the toy internetz” stuff. I mean, do we even understand the scope of that goal?

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I talk to a lot of different people online, from those who used to run toy sites to those who currently run them. Do you realize how many “top dogs” on the toy scene aren’t even aware of each other? Everyone’s “winning” a race without even knowing who their competitors are. Isn’t that odd? Is anyone really leading or is it simply a matter of scope and perspective?

I’m not doing a What Would You Like To See More Of? post because I already know. I get it. You like Thrift Justice. The thing is, I’m kinda writing for me, and I’m inviting you along for the ride. There’s gonna be a lot of stuff coming up that you’re not gonna give a shit about, like when I looked back on lesser known TNBC shows. I can’t cater to a readership that I’m not even totally sure exists. Hell, I don’t know who all is reading this post. I don’t deserve to be top dog because I simply don’t know enough. Case in point: I still don’t get the reasoning behind website ads. I mean, sure, they can generate revenue for your site, but I’ve also heard too many stories of people getting $5 checks every three years. Why go through all that to make your site the equivalent of a NASCAR entry? Is it REALLY worth it? My site may look like shit to some, but I did that. I can’t blame Snorgtees for any of that. And how many people realize you’re supposed to clear your cookies for those Amazon Affiliate links to register?

Because there’s so much I don’t understand, I enjoy doing this as I also learn a lot from it. The internet is such a funny place, filled with fiefdoms and arbitrary measures of success. Page hit counts are whispered with the same gravitas as asking someone the size of their penis. We boast of having 10,000 followers, omitting the fact that we follow 9,000 (your follower/followee ratio is key). I dunno. I guess I’m just saying it’s hard to rule the world when you don’t even know how big it is. To me, my greatest challenge is getting people I KNOW to read my stuff, let alone strangers. Back to the follower thing, I have over 700, but I can count on about 25 of them to click any links I send out. And it’s FREE! I can’t imagine how it must feel to write and charge for a book. Anyway, that’s not “reach”. BUT it’s a small community that I cherish, and it should be nurtured. As I get older, it means more to me to foster those kinds of interactions than worrying that some Millenials aren’t sharing my post up on Digg.

I’ve already talked about future plans for the site, so I’m not gonna rehash that here. My main goal for 2013 is to build a sense of community. I’ve made a lot of friends online, and I’d like to do more of that. None of this “competition” stuff, as we’ve all got challengers of whom we aren’t even aware. And what are we trying to “win”? Anyway, if people want in, I welcome them. I’m just tired of pissing in the wind; ya just end up wet. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.

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Funny Update: Just as I wrapped up this post, I got an advertising inquiry from a home furnishing firm. Clearly, they haven’t read this site…

28th Dec2011

2011 In Review: #New52 Pick-Up

by Will

 

So, I’m usually not a fan of year-end, best of posts, but I feel that we’ve experienced enough of the DC Comics’ New 52 that it’s time to revisit it. As the biggest comic event of the year, you may remember I had some preliminary thoughts on the whole venture. Around that time, the guys over at the PowetCast were nice enough to have me on their show to discuss the whole thing. Now that we’re four months in, I’ve got to say that I’m not really impressed. While DC has gotten more press than they have in years, there really aren’t a lot of new ideas here. While a few of the new approaches are interesting, I haven’t read anything that warranted a reboot. Also, I don’t feel like the right questions are being asked by editorial. They seem to be asking, “How are we going to reintroduce Steel?” Instead of asking “Is there even a need/place for Steel in the new universe?” In short, it’s more of the same, on a compressed rollout schedule. As I did before the launch, I thought I’d revisit the launch books and give updated thoughts.

1. Justice League – Sure, I like it so far, but I know that it’s only a matter of time before the team is filled with the members of the sure-to be canceled Justice League International. I love the team of Johns and Lee, but we’re about a year away from it being the team of Milligan and Kubert. That’s not a flagship-worthy creative team to me.

2. Justice League International – This book is more painful than Batman and the Outsiders. I considered it to be the Booster Gold fill-in book, but it’s not the same Booster. I’m also buying it because Batman’s on the team, but I think I’m done after the first arc is done. As an aside, I really thought it would feature the pre-Flashpoint Booster as he deals with his new surroundings. After all, he was outside the timestream as Flashpoint occurred, and actually popped up in that universe. I’ve read enough comics to know he should be all kinds of fucked up from that. I don’t feel like getting to know a new Booster, even if he turns out to be just like the old one. The old one didn’t need replacing.

3. Teen Titans – Done with #3. I just can’t bring myself to care. DC can’t seem to decide if this is the first incarnation of the Titans. I don’t like the characterization of Tim Drake, and I don’t like the new characters. Done.

4. Suicide Squad – I’m quite enjoying this. While I’m not keen on New Harley, I like that it uses characters that can afford to have liberties taken with them. Had I stuck with Secret Six I probably wouldn’t feel that way, but so far I’m pleased.

5. Action Comics – I think I’m done with #4. Never been a Morrison fanboy, and the pacing is rough. I was trying to be a trooper, but we’re getting 2 months of fill-ins before the initial story arc concludes. Look, I was a proponent of the fill-in model, but I expect you to get out the FIRST ARC before employing it. Plus, I had to be honest and ask myself “Am I a Superman guy?” Like, will I honestly be reading the book in a year? Unlike Batman, I’m not gonna just buy Superman books out of habit. If it’s bad now, it’s only going to get worse. Done. Steel introduction this early on? Double done.

6. Superman – I actually find this one interesting, yet it’s so damn verbose. Too many damn words. I swear Claremont is ghostwriting this thing. While I know there’s a 5 year gap between the events of Action and those here, this does not feel like the same Superman, and that’s a problem. The one in Action doesn’t even feel like an inexperienced version of this guy. Im hanging on, but will probably drop after the first arc.

7. Superboy – Done with #2. Like with Teen Titans, I just don’t care. This isn’t my Kon-El, and I don’t care enough to get to know him. The Caitlin Fairchild angle almost kept me on, but that just forced it into another unnecessary direction – Gen13 rehash. I’m not saying that’s where it’s definitely going, but I read the whole “genetically-engineered teen turns against clandestine maker” story back in ’94, and it was called Gen13. Pass.

8. Supergirl – never picked it up. This is, what, her fourth incarnation since COIE? Not interested.

9. Batman – look, I like Snyder, but I don’t get everyone raving over Capullo. All of his white males look the same – the only difference is height. I’ve read online interviews where he has said the similarities between Bruce and the new politician guy are deliberate, but that doesn’t explain why they look like the same characters he drew in Haunt. He makes Tony Daniel look talented.

10. Detective Comics – Speaking of Daniel, he doesn’t suck nearly as much as he used to. I honestly enjoyed his opening arc, even if it felt like he was playing with Morrisonian concepts that he didn’t fully understand. He’s showing growth, and that’s admirable.

11. Batman: The Dark Knight – Why am I buying this book? It isn’t very good. This is what happens when you promote an artist to writer just to keep him from jumping ship to Marvel. Every iconic character has a superfluous book, and this is Batman’s. This is the Legends of the Dark Knight/Batman Chronicles/Batman Confidential of the New 52. It’s for those people who’ll buy anything with Batman in it, though it really doesn’t move the needle in terms of adding value to the character. I like Finch’s art, but I see myself dropping this soon. In my 52 Thoughts post, I said that Paul Cornell or Peter Tomasi would be on it in a year. Well, I was close, as Paul Jenkins is already on as co-writer.

12. Batgirl – I’m pretty much done after the first arc. I thought she was better as Oracle, and what I’ve read hasn’t made me feel like Barbara Gordon-as-Batgirl is even needed. Why not keep Cassie or Steph? The Bat timeline is the most confusing of the relaunch, since we don’t know which events still happened. That said, I just haven’t enjoyed this. Call me when she’s paralyzed again.

13. Batwoman – This book is the comic equivalent of a beautiful woman with no personality. I like looking at it, but the story has done absolutely nothing for me. Batwoman has been around for about 5 years now, and we know so little about her. This isn’t done in a deliberate way, either, like with old school Wolverine. Why is she necessary? Why is she wearing the mantle of The Bat? I’ve said it before, but I’d appreciate her more as an original character called the Asskicktress than as Batwoman, as we still haven’t been given a good reason as to why she chose to be BATwoman. She’s not likable. The way DC pushes her sexuality, she comes off as a “diversity hire”, but I’ll admit that the only thing I do find interesting is her relationship with Maggie Sawyer. I’m a sucker for supporting cast members. Still hanging on…for now.

14. Catwoman – Man, did everyone lose their shit over the sex in #1! I admit it caught me off guard, but other books have shown that New 52 Bruce Wayne does fuck. My major concern is that I hope he used a bat condom! Just like with Action, am I gonna be reading Catwoman a year from now? Probably not, but I’ll finish the first arc. Like in the past, I’ll come back when they rope her into the first mega Bat crossover.

15. Red Hood and the Outlaws – It started out as everyone hating Whorefire, but that seems to have subsided. I dislike this book for another reason entirely: it’s just not what I signed on for. I expected Red Hood and Red Arrow to be anti heroes, doing their own thing. I did not expect mystical mumbo jumbo, and I hate that shit. I don’t care about mystical cities and revenge and whatnot. Seriously close to dropping this.

16. Batwing – My God this is a good book! Who knew? I was ready to write it off as another “diversity hire” book. After all, out of all the Batman Inc folks, why did HE get a series? That said, I’m loving it. Sure, Winick worked an AIDS reference in by #4, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

17. Nightwing – I feel like I’ve read this before. Sure, the Haley’s angle is new, but it reads just like the last Nightwing series, when he moved to NYC. All Nightwing series begin with him doubting himself and finding his confidence. He usually finds it just in time for the next reboot/relaunch. Finishing the arc, but not impressed.

18. Batman and Robin – After Morrison left, this felt like an unnecessary flagship – like when Whedon left Astonishing X-Men. That said, I’m loving this new direction. This is where you get the emotional beats of Bruce getting to know the son he never knew he had. Some may find it unnecessary, but these are the interactons I’ve wanted to see since Batman R.I.P.

19. Birds of Prey – Dropped it after #1. Just like with Booster and the Titans, I have no desire to get to know this new team. Don’t need a new Dinah. Don’t care to know Starling. I know some of my online friends love it, but it’s just not worth the $3 to me.

20. Green Lantern – I’ve said this in other places, but #1 felt more like a season premiere rather than a series premiere. What I mean by that is that it was clear that events had occurred prior to the issue – important events. While it was accessible, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something. Considering I’d read the Sinestro Corps War, as well as Blackest Night, that’s not a good feeling. I am, however, enjoying the focus on Sinestro. I’ve never truly seen him as a villain, so I’m enjoying this spotlight on him. That said, I’m probably gone after this arc. GL is written in an almost Marvel way, where one event leads into the next, so jumping off may not be as clean a break as I’m hoping.

21. Aquaman – Really loving it. I’ll chalk it up to Johns’s writing, but I’m enjoying it so far. I can see myself dropping it eventually, but no time soon.

22. Wonder Woman – Dropped with #1. Chiang’s art is gorgeous, but I don’t know what the fuck is going on. Mythology is not my bag, as I learned most of it from Hercules and Xena. I just couldn’t follow it. I know there are folks out there who eat that stuff up, and more power to ‘em. Just not for me.

23. Flash – I’m actually enjoying this arc. I like Manuapul’s art, and the story is pretty engaging. That said, I still don’t really care about Barry Allen. This is even after Rebirth and Flashpoint. Just don’t care. So, I can see myself dropping this after the first arc.

24. Blue Beetle – Dropped with #1. Not in the mood for a new introduction, as it feels like we JUST met Jaime. Also, I get that he’s a Latin character, but the book is too in your face with the Spanish. It’s off-putting in a way. I hope he opens a lot of doors for minority characters, but he’s not for me.

25. Fury of Firestorm – My God this was a piece of shit. Dropped with #1. It’s such a cliched mess. I expected the comic adaptation of City Guys, but I expected better dialogue. This needed to happen, though, just to show that Gail can and does write shit every now and then. I know that’s a controversial notion to some, but she’s human, so she’s capable of error. She sucked on Gen13, she sucked on Wonder Woman, she sucked on The Atom, and she sucked on this. Not everything she writes turns to gold. This was a horrible, horrible book. DC seems to think Firestorm deserves to be represented in some fashion, but they just can’t wrap their brains around the proper way to do it.

26. Mr Terrific – Dropped with #3. It seemed like most people were reading because they heard Karen Starr was in it. Then, they lost their shit when she turned out to be his fuck buddy rather than Power Girl. While I don’t claim to know a ton about Mr Terrific, this ain’t the guy I remember. They want him to be too many things. He’s black Tony Stark, with a hint of Reed Richards. He’s so smart, yet such a disaster. He’s about to lose his company, he travels to microdimensions, and he’s visited by his supposedly dead son from the future. Plus, the pacing is just all wrong. He proceeds to tell his origin as post-coital pillow talk. It comes off like, “Thanks for the pussy. So, let me tell you about my dead wife.” I just don’t care anymore. I think folks are now reading it just hoping for clues as to where the new JSA will come from. Since DC has pretty much said that this is where you’ll find clues, I don’t expect the book to go anywhere anytime soon. I just won’t be along for the ride.

27. Static Shock – Dropped with #3. I really wanted to support this book. Fun character, Scott McDaniel art. That said, like Green Lantern, it felt like too much had occurred prior to the series. I don’t even know where such events could have occurred, as Static’s appearances were irregular pre New 52. It just didn’t feel accessible. Started to feel like a chore.

28. Frankenstein – Intriguing ideas, but its tone didn’t seem to fit everything else going on in the New 52. I enjoyed the character in Seven Soldiers but that series worked because it was so outside the DCU norm. I might like this as a Vertigo book, but it felt like Hellboy. If I wanted to read a Hellboy clone, I’d just read Atomic Robo. Dropped with #1.

29. Justice League Dark – Interesting, but it’s really just Shadowpact borrowing on the clout of the Justice League brand. I don’t like magical bullshit, so this was dropped with #1.

30. Blackhawks – a few yrs ago, when they knew they were losing the G.I. Joe license, Devils Due went after the license for The Corps. You know The Corps – they’re the G.I.Joe knockoffs that your grandma always gets you ’cause she doesn’t know any better. Instead of The Baroness, there’s The Contessa. You get the picture. Anyway, they only got out a #0 before they apparently forgot they had the license. Why do I bring this up? It’s because this feels like that series. It’s DC’s Chinese knockoff Joe team. I don’t think the DCU needs a Joe team. After all, Checkmate seems to still be in existence. Where does this group fit into things? Tonally, there’s just no place for this team, and I don’t feel like getting to know them.

And The Rest: OMAC, Captain Atom, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, Red Lanterns, Hawk & Dove, LOSH, Legion Lost, Deathstroke, Grifter, Voodoo, Stormwatch, All-Star Western, Men at War, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Demon Knights, Resurrection Man, I, Vampire, Green Arrow, DC Universe Presents, Savage Hawkman – skipped, no interest

DC also decided to slip a few miniseries out amongst the 52 ongoings. Lately, I have a “no mini” policy, as they rarely add any value to a franchise. If it turns out to be important, I can always get the trade. So, I skipped Penguin: Pain & Prejudice because, well, it’s a book about Penguin! I also skipped The Shade because, while the Starman Omnibus series taught me that James Robinson is an incredible writer, with an incredible take on The Shade, it simultaneously taught me that I have no desire to read those characters outside of collected editions. So, I’ll skip it for now. There’s some scuttlebutt that sales are low and the series may not reach completion, but that’s just a risk I’m willing to take. I gave Huntress a chance, but I’m done with #2. People online are raving over this thing, and I don’t have a clue as to why. Sure, Marcus To’s art is beautiful, but the glacial pacing would shame even Marvel editors. It’s going nowhere fast, and I’d just rather save the money.

So, it seems like I just had a lot of bile to spew, but there are some bright spots: Aquaman, most of the Bat books, Justice League, and others. The bottom line, however, was that these results could’ve been achieved from a creator shuffle and NOT a full-scale revamp. It was GREAT PR, but that’s only going to last so long. At this point, the sales have pretty much settled down, with Marvel again taking the lead market share. This tactic may have attracted new fans, but at the cost of old school fans. I’ll admit that I don’t like change. I’m a curmudgeon like that, but I’ll still give things a chance. I’ll give credit where credit is due, so I feel there are some bright spots out there for DC. As a whole, however, I don’t think there’s enough evidence to call this a rousing, long-term success. What I can say is that DC closed out 2011 with a highest profile than they’ve had since Superman died. At this rate, they’ll be the popular girl again by 2032.

 

16th Aug2011

Thrift Justice: Ranger Danger

by Will

So, I had an experience last week that was cute yet troubling. While everything turned out OK in the end, I’ve still been thinking about it for the last few days. Let’s see what y’all think.

A few of the thrift stores I frequent have what you might call “grab bags” in the toy aisle. Standard plastic bags hanging from pegs, these bags contain anything from kids meal toys to actual retail action figures. Part of the fun is identifying all of the random stuff you might find inside. I’ve often wondered if there’s a system as to how the bags are packed, or if they’re weighed or something. It’s just odd to see a Looney Tunes/DC Comics McDonalds toy from ’91 in the bag with a Ron Weasley and a broken Megatron.

Anyway, on this particular day, I found a nice bag packed with Power Rangers. If you’ve read the site before, you’ll know that I hav a bit of a thing for the Rangers. Seeing as how I stopped buying the figures about 10 years ago, I’ve missed out on the more recent stuff. This bag, oddly enough, was filled with things I didn’t own. YOINK!

I walked around the rest of the store, clutching my conquest, trying to see if there was anything else of interest. Not paying much attention to the people around me, I walked right past a little boy who immediately noticed the bag in my hand. His face lit up, as my heart said “Oh, shiiit.” Every kid in that place might as well be an orphan, as they’ve all run off from their parents. True to form, his parents didn’t seem to be around, either.

I took a few steps, and the boy followed me. He caught up to me, pointed at the bag and said “I want that.” I replied, “It’s mine, though. I already got it.” Don’t judge me! I found it fair and square!

He said, “Yeah, but I want it.” I started wondering if this kid was gonna jump me for these toys, or if he’d make a scene. I’m already the grownup in the toy aisle, so Lord knows what people think anyway! I, once again, replied, “You can’t have them, though. I found them over there.” At this point, I gestured over in the general direction of the toy aisle.

“They have more?” he asked. I knew full well that they didn’t have anything quite like the bag I was holding, but I still said, “Yeah, there’s more.” I was hoping he’d run off and join the rest of the little El Salvadorean Oliver Twists running through the store. What he did next, however, broke my heart.

He reached up his little hand, and said “Come on!”. He wanted me to take him over to the toy aisle. I guess he wasn’t so independent after all. Now, at this point, I felt I’d been talking to this child way longer than a grown man should, and I was already hating being seen in discussion with this kid. Now, he wanted me to hold his hand, and walk him over to the toy aisle. Oh, HELL naw! Sweet gesture, but not a good idea.

I started to walk away, but he ran up, still reaching his little hand up for me to take it. So, this was his endgame, huh? Well played. I sighed, and put the bag of Rangers in his outstretched hand. After all, that’s what he wanted in the first place. I can be cold, but I’m not taking toys from a kid. I didn’t even really want the things, and he clearly did.

He smiled, and just turned the bag around in his hands, marveling at everything inside. I was just going to throw ‘em in a box, while he was going to enjoy them. I’d made the right choice. So, as he was mesmerized, I got the Hell out of that aisle before he tried to enlist me to go help him look for more!

Now, here’s my issue: that kid needs to be warned about Stranger Danger. Luckily, he found me and I’m far from a threat, but he didn’t know that. He sees a guy with a bag of toys, and he’s all “Sign me up, cap’n!” That’s not cool. That could’ve ended really poorly for him. For me, the takeaway was that I’m not happy to know I’m not enough of a bastard to take toys away from a little kid, but the B-plot was definitely the fact that this kid, and many like him, could be subjected to danger without even thinking about it. If you’ve got kids, teach them the proper way to deal with strangers – especially at the thrift store.

07th Apr2011

So, Which TV Network Are You?

by Will

I’m not sure if this is obvious to some, but the “television experience” has changed a LOT in just a few short years. Once upon a time, people were concerned about airdates and antenna positioning, however, the prevalence of DVR and cable have pretty much done away with all of that. The aspect which has experienced the greatest change, however, is that of network branding. Currently, networks no longer really have a specific identity, instead choosing to let their shows speak for themselves. This can be confusing, though, as what does it say about a network when its most successful shows involve crime scene semen or anti-social nerd caricatures? This wasn’t always the case. There was a time, not that long ago, when networks not only promoted their programming, but also their identities. This was true from the biggest network affiliate to the smallest local syndicated outlet. For example, Channel 5 used to show the same reruns of Mr. Belvedere, Three’s Company, and Who’s The Boss?, but for the summer of ’92, they expected you to refer to it all as “Camp Teeheehaha”. Sure, you’d seen the shows before, but they were taking advantage of the American experience of going off to summer camp in an attempt to rebrand the shows. That’s some Don Draper shizz right there! Networks did little things like this to show that they supported their series; after all, they’d already paid for the syndication rights, so they might as well get their money’s worth. Nowadays, all we have are court shows. If you miss one, another will be on right after it. There’s no real need to promote, as there’s no real difference: sassy black woman judge, sassy white woman judge, sassy might-be-Latina judge, etc. The shows have changed, but so has the promotion of said shows. So, where am I going with this? Well, growing up, I used to think about which network I’d want to be on were I to have my own series. As I grew from boy to man, in what was (to me) a golden age of television, I noticed certain things about each network that made me want to park myself on their prime-time lineup. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

ABC

This one is pretty much a no-brainer, as anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s knows where I’m going with this. ABC had a bunch of shows which made them seem like The Touchy-Feely Network, whether it was the family drama of Life Goes On, or the generational experiences of Thirtysomething. Judith Light starred in the riveting TV movie of The Ryan White Story, and families loved gathering around to watch dads across America get hit in the crotch on America’s Funniest Home Videos. All of those shows, however, had NOTHING on the powerhouse known as TGIF.

I’m not going to go into the history and lineup of the TGIF block, ’cause most of y’all were there. Maybe it’s the comic fanboy in me, but what I loved most about TGIF was the shared universe. I guess I’m always looking for a sense of community, and I loved how the early series tended to be related to each other in some way: Mark Cooper (Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper) subbed for Michelle Tanner’s (Full House) class, while Harriet Winslow (Family Matters) was the elevator operator at Larry & Balki’s job (Perfect Strangers). Steve Urkel (Family Matters) did a science project with Mark Foster (Step By Step), while Dana Foster (Step By Step) gave love advice to Cory Matthews (Boy Meets World) at Sea World. With all of this crossover action, it was kinda fun trying to imagine where I might fit in. Maybe I’d be friends with Eddie Winslow, like Weasel and Waldo Geraldo Faldo. Or maybe Karen Foster would reject me before her character oddly disappeared to pursue a country music career. Or maybe I’d be the black friend that Cory and Shawn used to have when Minkus was still around. The possibilities were endless!

One of this biggest perks of a perch on the TGIF lineup was that you also got to host the Saturday Morning Preview special. These are relics of days gone by, but back when networks still had Saturday morning cartoons, they always kicked off the season with the Saturday Morning Preview one Friday night in September (Sure, NBC had one, too, but those were usually hosted by Cosby kids or those awkward kids from ALF or The Torkelsons). The TGIF ones were great, as everyone was (usually) still in character and they genuinely seemed excited about dreck like Hammerman and Little Rosie. Everything was awesome in TGIF Land! As an added bonus, once Disney bought ABC, every show was pretty much required to do a stint at Disney World, so free vacation!

CBS

Growing up, I can’t ever remember wanting to be on CBS. That’s not to say that I didn’t watch CBS shows. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Up until the dawn of the CSI Era, CBS got a bad rap as The Old Folks’ Network. Yes, they had programming like Murder, She Wrote and 60 Minutes, but I never saw it like that. If anything, I always felt that CBS shows had a sense of maturity that couldn’t be found on other networks. I grew up watching Murphy Brown and Designing Women - both shows that spoke more to my experience of being raised by strong, single women from the South. So, I never wanted to be on CBS, as I felt I was already there. Next!

NBC

While ABC was courting me with TGIF, NBC had another acronym waiting in the wings for my affection: TNBC. By far, the most successful NBC branding of that era was “Must-See TV”, but I couldn’t really relate to that. I enjoyed the shows, but they all took place in Manhattan, as the protagonists seemed to have these fantasy jobs that paid for their massive apartments. As much as I love New York, I wasn’t gonna be on “Must-See Thursday” unless I sold a joint to Theo Huxtable or got transferred to Hillman College. Then, along came TNBC as a world of possibility for young black guys. Sure, Lisa Turtle didn’t do much for The Cause, but California Dreams came along and showed me that I could be a drummer. And there was that black dude on The Guys Next Door - sure, no one remembers that show, but I remember he was there. Then, we got Saved By The Bell: The New Class, which always seemed to have a slot for a hip, dancing black guy that needed to be filled. And Hang Time - a show about basketball! C’mon! As a teenager growing up in the late 90s, nowhere felt like “home” as much as TNBC. Yes, I realize that those shows were basically created for girls, but I still kinda felt like those characters were my people.

The BIGGEST perk of being on NBC, however, is one of these:

I don’t know if it’s contractual or what, but if you’re on an NBC show, you are pretty much guaranteed to film one of these public service announcements. A lot of PSAs just come off kinda clunky, but The More You Know has gained a special place in the annals of pop culture. Most PSAs are lame, but I always saw these as some kind of badge of honor. I’ll take one of these over those Truth.com kids ANY day!

Fox

Oh, Fox! It’s amazing how an entertainment network can be so edgy, while its news wing is so conservative. Fox was founded on Married…with Children, so that has colored its identity. While ABC was the Touchy-Feely Network, Fox was on the complete other end of that spectrum. Besides the early reality fare like World’s Greatest Police Chases, there was a “Fox Show” model: the aforementioned Married…, Top of the Heap, even Herman’s Head. Generally, if you wanted to make middle America uncomfortable for about 6 episodes, and your show wouldn’t work anywhere else, then Fox was the place to be. Even to this day, I’m surprised by how much Fox Standards & Practices allows on the air – the entire Seth MacFarlane franchise is a good example of this.

I’ve admired Fox because they are willing to take chances. They still carry shows that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else, and they miss more than they hit. The beauty of the network, however, is that it lives by American Idol alone. The show airs 5 months of the year, but the ratings are high enough to make Fox the #1 Network for the entire season. Growing up, all they had was The Simpsons, but the attitude seemed to be the same as it is now. Sure, reality programming has evolved, and Fox has taken advantage of that, but it’s still the same old Fox. I’d want to be on Fox ’cause they’ll promote the Hell out of your show during NFL and MLB games, but you’re still gonna get cancelled after they move your show to Sundays at 7:00 PM.

UPN

Has there ever been a network with more of an identity crisis than UPN? It’s remembered as The Black Network, but that’s not entirely accurate. Sure, the network had a lot of horrible black shows, like Homeboys in Outer Space and The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, but there was so much more to it than that. The oddest part of UPN was the it’s prelaunch reputation didn’t match what ended up on the screen. Here’s the pre-launch promo for the network:

As you see, it’s relying on the reputation of the shows that had been developed by Paramount in the past, yet doesn’t really go into detail as to what we should expect from the network. Were they just going to rerun all those shows they just mentioned? Should we be expecting new stuff? Classical music! Rock music! Then, the network launched, and we were introduced to DiResta, Marker and Platypus Man. When your network is bolstered by shows starring a Mad About You costar and Richard Greico, you’re in trouble. Yeah, there was Star Trek: Voyager, but it could also be said that UPN was the nail in the Trek coffin, as both of its offerings were reviled by fans. Early UPN was the television equivalent of the Dot Com Boom, as they really just threw around a lot of ideas to see if they’d stick. Richard Dean Anderson as a cowboy. A Love Boat reboot. A bunch of shows NBC had knocked off their schedule because they apparently weren’t “New York” enough. Through all of this, there was one spot where I could see myself.

Around the time the NBC’s TNBC block was at its peak, UPN started toying around with a similar concept for weekday afternoons. Comprised of reruns of Sweet Valley High and a new teen show called Breaker High, the network adopted the slogan “UPN is U’pn”, which was pronounced “oo-pin”. Sure, it made no sense, and to say it aloud sounds like something you’d hear in a commercial for Dunkaroos. Maybe they were implying that UPN was moving up? Maybe UPN was jumping? I don’t know, but where there are teen shows, I’ll be there. Anyway, Breaker High was about a bunch of kids who were in a semester-at-sea program. It had everything you’d come to expect from teen shows, but starred a charismatic Ryan Gosling and Tyler Labine. I loved the Hell out of that show, even though it didn’t even last an entire season. The U’pn block ran for about 3 months on a daily schedule until it just disappeared one day in November, as the timeslot was given back to the stations. Breaker High finished up its run on Sunday mornings, but the only time I ever saw anything worthwhile in that network was the 3-month U’pn Era.

The WB

OK, I already covered the fact that I’m drawn to things that give off a sense of community, and no network exemplified that as much as The WB. When it first launched, the network’s promos revolved around the image that all of the stars hung out on the Warner Bros backlot. Going to work seemed like it would be a ton of fun, as you’d see Nikki Cox on the elevator, and run into Tia and Tamara Mowry on the way to the set.

Plus, I was entering a point in my life where I really kinda wanted to be in a boyband. While girls my age were pining for heartthrobs, I wanted to be one, and nobody developed teen stars quite like The WB. The stars of those shows kept the teen magazine industry in business for the better part of a decade. If you were under the age of 20, and wanted to make it big, you either needed to fly to Orlando and audition for Lou Pearlman, or you needed to get yourself on a WB show.

Even though it’s a bit of a joke in some circles, The WB did more for pop culture over a decade than people realize. I explored this once before, and my feelings haven’t changed. For that reason, The WB is where I’d want my show to air. You can thank them for Buffy, even if you blame them for Katherine Heigl. To top things off, I think they had a really classy send-off video. A network hadn’t folded since the DuMont Network, so I had no frame of reference for these things. However, if you’ve got to go out, this is the way to do it:

09th Mar2011

Peter Engel’s Forgotten Children: Obscure Teen Sitcoms Part I

by Will

I’ve never made a secret of my love of bad teen television. My love for the TNBC franchise is only second to my Power Rangers obsession. That said, I watched that lineup from its inception to its demise at the hands of Discovery Kids. What some people may not know is that the bulk of the TNBC offerings were the work of one Mr. Peter Engel. Primarily a television producer, Engel’s professional journey has been somewhat unorthodox.  He got his big break producing teen sitcoms, primarily for NBC. Later on, he became Dean of Pat Roberson’s Regent University. Once that ended, he somehow found himself producing NBC’s Last Comic Standing. What I love most about Engel is that he found a way to build an empire by recycling the same tropes. We’re all familiar with the hits, such as Saved By the Bell and California Dreams, but I want to focus on the shows that never reached the same level of success as those shows, despite being cut from the very same cloth.

As I said before, we already know the bigger shows: Good Morning, Miss Bliss (which we now refer to as Saved By The Bell: The Junior High Years), Saved By The Bell, and its spinoffs The New Class and The College Years. Mixed in there was California Dreams (basically “Zack Attack: The Series”), which also had a lengthy run. Now, if we’re going chronologically, Hang Time would be next, however it’s not technically an “Engel Show”. Go watch the first season – it’s not even really a sitcom. Engel came onboard during the second season, and basically changed it into Saved By The Bell: The Basketball Team. No, even Hang Time isn’t obscure enough for what we’re here to do. I want to talk about USA High.

USA High was a Peter Engel show that aired, appropriately enough, on USA Network, from 1997-2001. It has been said that it was originally developed for TNBC, but it somehow became a companion show to Saved By The Bell: The New Class reruns when USA Network acquired the rights to them. At its core, USA High was Saved By The Bell: The Paris Years. Basically, it was all the SBTB adventures you’d already seen, only now they were set at the American Academy boarding school in Paris, France.

Oddly enough, it felt like the whole Paris thing was added as an afterthought, as there are no European qualities to the show whatsoever. The dorm where the kids live is just the Saved By The Bell: The College Years set reused. They hang out at Cafe USA, which is really just the American Chain Restaurant for Tourists version of The Maxx. There’s an outdoor nighttime set that they used for date episodes, but it was just some cafe tables next to a window. Honestly, the show could’ve been set anywhere, as the locale never really factored into anything that took place.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the characters, many of whom you’ll recognize. First up, there’s Jackson Greene (portrayed by Josh Holland), who’s our resident pretty boy schemer. Of course, most of his schemes are just attempts to date All American, albeit flatchested, Lauren Fontaine (portrayed by Elena Lyons). Oh, did I mention that Lauren is a waitress at Cafe USA? Next, we had our musclebound German heartthrob, Christian (portrayed by Thomas Magiar). Here’s where you might say, “Well, he’s German, so that’s European, right?” It might’ve been special if Saved By The Bell: The New Class hadn’t added a German kid to their cast the previous year. Then, there’s goody two-shoes honor student Ashley Elliot (portrayed by Kristen Miller), who traded in Jesse’s feminism for a cute British accent. In the “annoying little guy” role, we’ve got Bobby Lazzarini (portrayed by James Madio). Rounding out the cast is probably the biggest change from the SBTB formula, which was the role of Winnie Barnes (portrayed by Marquita Terry). While Lisa Turtle was originally a Jewish character (what? you didn’t know that?), it’s clear that Winnie was black from the get-go. She’s stereotypical enough that it wouldn’t be surprising to hear “I’ma cut you!” come out of her mouth. Switching things up, it’s Christian who’s madly in love with her instead of Lazzarini. All of their adventures happen under the watch of bumbling Headmaster (and Ashley’s father), Mr. Elliot (portrayed by Nicholas Guest). In the second season of the show, Lazzarini’s written out, and replaced by California Dreams alum William James Jones in the role of “Dwayne ‘Excess’ Wilson”.

Anyway, I’m always surprised that more people haven’t seen USA High, as there were a total of 95 episodes compared to Saved By The Bell‘s 86 episodes. I understand it never had the network/syndication exposure of Saved By The Bell, but I’m sure people just stumbled across it and said “What’s this show?”, without really knowing what they were watching.

Where Are They Now?

Most of the cast of USA High have faded into obscurity, as teen sitcom stars are prone to do. Engel’s really good at “keeping it in the family”, as shown by his decision to hire Jones from California Dreams. Josh Holloway went on to play a date rapist in City Guys (another Engel show), while Marquita Terry went on to join the cast of Malibu, CA (yet another Engel show). Elena Lyons appears to have gotten a boob job, and can be see in Broken Lizard’s Club Dread. Kristen Miller went on to costar in That’s My Bush, as well as She Spies. James Madio went on to appear in HBO’s Band of Brothers, and has a steady career in voice acting.

Engel Extra!

While USA High was cranking along on USA Network, Engel got One World added to the TNBC schedule. Basically, the show followed a couple who had taken foster kids into their home. It was heavier stuff than typical Engel fare, but it was still teen-focused. Honestly, the fact that it was on the TNBC schedule was a testament to how much the television landscape had changed by that point. Ten years prior, the show would’ve aired in the same primetime slots as ALF or The Torkelsons. As primetime got edgier, “family shows” were now being seen as kid’s fare. Anyway, the most recognizable cast member was Alisa Reyes, who had grown up as a cast member on All That. Apparently, she’s a DJ for Playboy Radio now. Oh, and it had that kid who starred in all those Johnny Tsunami Disney Channel movies. Anyway, One World tackled those hard hitting questions, like “Do foster kids hook up with each other?” No, seriously.

Join us next time, as we tackle City Guys, and a little known gem called Malibu, CA.

18th Feb2011

The Digital Revolution Is Being Televised

by Will

I like to think of myself as an informed person. By no means am I a genius, but I like to think of myself as “Jeopardy Smart” – I know a little about a lot. There’s one thing, however, that I know a LOT about, and that’s television. I’m not just talking about shows and actors, but the behind-the-scenes aspect of television. I’ve studied the biography of Brandon Tartikoff, I’ve read everything I could about the Late Night Wars, and I recognize there’s more genius to Peter Engel than we give him credit for. So, with all this focus on TV, I’m always taken aback when something fails to make any real sense. One such occasion was the broadcast switchover from analog to digital. While we were given plenty of warning (and even an extension), it was never fully explained as to why the switch was taking place. For non TV folks, I’m referring to the fact that you can no longer watch TV with a simple antenna, but are now required to have a digital box in order to catch an over-the-air TV signal. Some explanations suggested that it would free up the analog airwaves to be used for emergency purposes. According to some accounts, the government plans to auction off the vacated analog spectrum. For whatever the reason, it was never clear, and it was a huge headache for the elderly population. Most of the folks reading this have cable, so y’all never noticed any real change. I, however, grew up without cable and I was raised by the Black Golden Girls. Preparing them for the switchover was akin to prepping them for potential missile attacks from the “reds”. What truly came as a surprise, however, was that the switchover would open a door to the past that I never dreamed possible.

It was like this, but picture them black

Here’s a little full disclosure for you: I’ve never had cable. My mom finally caved and got it once I moved out, but I have never lived in a place that had cable. To make matters worse, I have a basement studio apartment, so getting any kind of over-the-air signal was a bit of a challenge before the switchover. I’ve never minded a little static, though, as I grew up watching Baltimore TV through the static because their Channel 54 had better shows than our Channel 20 (syndicated Punky Brewster, son!). Nobody told me, however, that digital airwaves would do away with that ability! Now, if you don’t get a signal, the screen just goes blue or you get a “No Signal” message. Another part of my childhood gone. That damn digital box ruined my life, as it pretty much eliminated the ability to watch any local station. What it did provide, however, was a link to the past. You see, I now only really get 3 channels, but those 3 channels have turned out to be more awesome than I could have imagined. I tend to suffer from a pretty bad case of seasonal affect disorder where pretty much any condition makes me depressed. Yeah, I should probably see a professional about that, but my home remedy is regression. That was a big deal back in college: “Hey, it’s Finals Week, so come to RPU and join us for comfort food and your favorite cartoons!” It’s a remedy I still employ to this day, and it works. Apparently, “everything old is new again”, and the 3 digital channels that I manage to get actually do a pretty good job recreating my childhood. Let’s take a closer look at what we have here, shall we?

As I said, none of my local network channels seem to work any longer, but most of those channels have additional digital channels that the stations seem desperate to fill with programming. For instance, our local NBC station has a digital channel (4-2) that played nothing but old beach volleyball matches. Our local ABC affiliate, however, has something I actually enjoy. You see, they carry the Retro Television Network (Channel 7-2). In what could be considered a “Poor Man’s TV Land“, RTV focuses on showing hour-long dramas from the past. Stumble across the channel, and you’ll find yourself watching I, Spy or Magnum, P.I. The true beauty of the station, however, is that it shows Knight Rider and The A-Team every glorious night. It’s like I’m 3 years old again, and I ain’t complaining! Sure, those shows haven’t aged all that well, but I simply don’t care. Forget How I Met Your Mother 5 times a week – I’ve got the DVDs; when I’m rushing home in the evening, it’s to travel back to a time when bullets didn’t kill and a talking car was a rarity.

I first discovered RTV last winter when I was unemployed, and I pretty much thought that was as good as the retro television scene was going to get. Then, everything changed on January 1, 2011, when the local CW affiliate started carrying Antenna TV on one of their digital channels (Channel 50-2). While RTV is more of a TV Land clone, Antenna TV is more of a Nick at Nite clone. It hearkens back to the days when Nick at Nite used to play actual classics, and not The George Lopez Show and Roseanne. We’ve had a ton of snow days recently, and during that time I’ve seen shows that I haven’t seen in years – things like  Too Close for Comfort, The Monkees, and Gidget. What really put a smile on my face was when I read that Antenna TV would also be adding Three’s A Crowd to their schedule. I know it’s a terrible, formulaic show, but I’m a Three’s Company fanatic. It has always bothered me that spin-offs Three’s A Crowd and The Ropers aren’t a part of the syndication package. Antenna TV will be showing the entire franchise. I don’t care if it’s 4 in the morning, I’ll be watching.

I’ve been familiar with qubo for some time, mainly due to the fact that the qubo programming block took over the NBC Saturday morning timeslots formerly occupied by TNBC and Discovery Kids. My biggest gripe with qubo was that they focused on thinly-veiled Christian CGI cartoons, like Veggie Tales and 3-2-1 Penguins.  I actually enjoyed Penguins, but I felt they were hitting kids over the head with the Morals of the Week. So, when I realized that there was a qubo digital channel (66-2), I wasn’t exactly rushing home to watch it. Sadly, I get the strongest signal from that channel, so I find myself watching it more than I would like. Well, imagine my surprise a few months back when I caught something called qubo Night Owl. Apparently, qubo acquired the rights to the Filmation cartoon library, so starting around 1 AM, they show He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Bravestarr, and (the “unreal”) Ghostbusters, with the gorilla. It’s not award-winning television, but it’s pretty cool to watch if you’re drunk and/or can’t sleep. You might, however, find yourself wondering if She-Ra’s skirt was always that short…

So, while I still can’t explain the reasoning behind the digital switchover, I found a way to turn a negative into a positive. I kinda proud of myself, as I tend to like to just complain about stuff. In any case, I’m just like you. I can drive a car and hold a job. I just can’t watch television shows when they air. Oh well, thanks to the internet, I can just watch them the day after. While you’re consumed with your DVR and your On-Demand, I’m taking a trip back to a better time. Everything old is new again, and I’ve got a front row seat. Don’t you wish you could be me? Ok, you can stop laughing now. Come on, that’s not cool. Stop laughing!

*channel numbers based on Washington, DC viewing market. Check your local listings for your own damn digital channels

25th Aug2010

RePlay: Natural – Keep It Natural

by Will

When last we met, I covered Solid Harmonie and their place in the long line of forgotten groups from Trans Continental Records. For every ‘NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and Jordan Knight, there was C-Note, The Lyte Funky Ones (LFO), and Natural. Well, this week, I want to talk about that last group, Natural.

When it came to bubblegum pop, one of the biggest gripes from the “music snob community” was that the artists didn’t play their own instruments. As far as boybands went, Lou Pearlman had already delivered the harmony group (BSB), the dance group (‘NSYNC), and he decided to finally give the critics what they felt had been lacking: a boyband where the members played their own instruments. Since their acoustic foundation would give them a more “natural” sound, that became their group name.

Natural came about after Lou’s boyband empire had peaked, post-BSB/’NSYNC lawsuits, and right around the time of O-Town. There are conflicting reports as to how the group actually got together, but the main point is that Lou did what he did with most of his boybands: he sent them off to Germany for grooming. When you get down to their look, they were just like every other boyband: there was the blond, sensitive one; the edgy one, with the spiky hair; the one who’s your mom’s favorite, etc. The gimmick, of course, was that they were a band made of boys, but not a boyband. To break it down, they acted as if the music came first, while avoiding some of the common tropes of that era’s boyband, such as smooth dance moves. In execution, the music came off as “BBMak, by way of California Dreams“.  It’s very reminiscent of Guys Next Door (am I the only one who remembers that old NBC show?).There’s definitely a camp factor, as the songs are cheesier than Velveeta, but they’re damn catchy! It was a different sound, as this period was still dominated by the sound of Max Martin, and the rest of the guys are Cheiron Studios. While there were cutsey pop acts of the time who depended on a more acoustic sound (The Moffats, the afore-mentioned BBMak), most of those groups failed to really make a dent in the landscape. Trying something different may have been the wrong call for Natural.

Keep It Natural, like so many other lost Trans Con albums, was released in Germany. Here’s the video for their first single, “Put Your Arms Around Me”. Hey, remember the days when every TV show/movie ripped off The Matrix, even in cases where it didn’t fit? Wait for it

Bet they’re wishing they hadn’t taken the red pill…

In the US, the single was released as a promo in Claires stores, yet wasn’t universally released until the exclusivity window closed, resulting in Natural not getting much airplay outside of Orlando.

Musically, Natural weren’t “bad”, per se – especially in the pop climate of the time. It just seemed that they were being molded, visually, into something that they were not. The next single, “Will It Ever”, wouldn’t have been out of place on Backstreet Boys’ Millennium album. You’ll notice, however, the addition of another forced dance break. The cut scenes and wacky angles are meant to mask the fact they they are not ‘NSYNC 2: Electric Boogaloo.

This video is a crane shotstravaganza! With a hint of Liquid Dreams…

One of the final singles from their debut was “Let Me Count The Ways”, which ended up as their highest charting German single (#11). Again, this is a pretty catchy song, but it’s not the kind of thing being delivered by their labelmates in the States. I will admit, though, that this video may have hurt them. I know Europe is a bit more liberal with things, but what is she, like, 14? These boys are so lucky they were out in a pre-Chris Hansen world…

We were just gonna watch some movies and hang out. Well, yeah, I brought beer…

Natural went on to release another album, It’s Only Natural, before parting ways with Lou. That’s when things really got ugly. Lou tried to keep the “Natural” name, as he was going to replace the guys who had broken his boyband rules (no facial hair, no girlfriends, etc). Meanwhile, the guys tried to rebrand themselves as more of a rock group, but nothing came from it. Neither album was released in the US, and Natural’s only real impact on North America was that their 2 lead singers provided the singing voices for Bart & Millhouse in the boyband episode of The Simpsons.

At the end of the day, Keep It Natural is a really enjoyable pop album. It’s not representative of the “2000 Boyband Sound”, and that may have been a blessing and a curse. It set Natural apart from the countless other boybands, but it simply wasn’t what the audience wanted at the time. I always feel I have to reiterate that the reason I do this column isn’t as a “This Is A Thing That Exists” piece, but rather it’s an attempt to show value in something that may have originally been overlooked. This music isn’t going to change the world, and it’s not groundbreaking. At the same time, it also doesn’t require you to follow a tweets for hidden meaning, nor does it force you to wonder if the guys eat truffle fries. It’s good old fashioned “Hey, ‘phone’ rhymes with ‘alone’” pop. It’s catchy and it’s fun – definitely earworm material. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and pop is just pop. I, for one, don’t see anything wrong with that.

28th Jun2010

It’s Been A While But We’re Back With Style…

by Will

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We’re coming up on the 7th anniversary of my entry into the world of blogging. Seven years ago, I was 2 months out of college, looking for something to pass the time during my temporary data entry job. Fast forward 7 years, and it’s now something to pass the time during my unemployment. Hmm…As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been gone a while in order to work out some kinks behind the scenes.

Ya see, It all started when I found out I had to move platforms. I’d been using Blogger since the beginning, but they no longer want to waste time on anyone publishing via FTP. So, we had to move on over to WordPress (hence the new look and features). After migration, I realized that the site really wasn’t that searchable. There were things I’d think about writing, but I would find myself wondering if I’d actually already written it and just plain forgot. So, I took a LOOONG stroll down memory lane, and reread each post, adding searchable tags to everything.

Over the course of this project, certain things stood out to me. For example, I apologize a LOT. Whether it was apologizing for not writing enough, for writing too much, or just for having a public pity party, it was all pretty pathetic. So, going forward, I’m going to make a conscious effort not to do that. I don’t owe y’all nothin’.

I also deleted some posts, be it they contained dead links or they were just unnecessary. There was a time when I adopted a “write like no one’s reading” mentality because, well, no one was reading. At that point, the site devolved into a bit of a livejournal clone. A lot of “Why doesn’t she notice me?” or “Happy first day at work, baby” posts. I had honestly forgotten how some of the stuff read, but I would have people say, “So, I was reading some of your old posts…” Those relationships ended, the world kept on spinning, no need of leaving all that up there. I’ve got NOTHING against self-deprecating humor, but a lot of those posts didn’t accomplish anything. They weren’t funny, and they were usually written in response to a “Why don’t you ever write about me on your site?” conversation. So, most of those are gone, but I doubt you’ll even miss them.

I also used to make a lot of promises: “The San Diego posts are coming soon” or “I’ll get to that story later”. I haven’t gotten to my Toy Fair experience YET, and that was in 2008! If I don’t feel like writing it then, I probably won’t feel like it later. I shouldn’t tease posts, as I can only write when I *feel* like writing about something. I can’t force it. So, certain “teased posts” tend to come out 6 months later or, in many cases, never at all.

Even worse are all of the promises of an upcoming redesign or renewal of interest in the blog. I don’t do the design stuff, so I’m at the mercy of my friend, Jenn. Most of the times I posted those promises of a new layout, they happened to coincide with times when she had absolutely no time to even care about this site. The site has really only had about 3 different incarnations, yet I promised redesigns like they were annual treats. So, I made a lot of empty promises, and ended up looking like more of a huckster than a poor man’s Stan Lee.

What really stuck out to me were all of the things I’ve actually *never* written about. For example, I thought I’d written more about my time at Diamond, but I guess I didn’t want it to become fodder for comic gossip sites, so I kept a lot of it to myself. Now that I’m pretty much never working in that industry again, maybe there are some good post ideas there.

Anyway, I also notice that I do a lot of these introspective posts, like the one you’re reading now, usually on a “milestone”. As narcissistic as I may be, I really don’t like these kinds of posts. You don’t wanna read this kind of shit! In the words of Depeche Mode, “Though things like this make me sick, in a case like this I’ll get away with it”. Now that it’s all out of my system, I know why you’re here: you want to read about my love for TNBC, comics and boybands. That’s the stuff I love to write about, and if this ain’t your first time here, then you already know it’s the kind of stuff you came here to see. I just needed to get this out as a bit of a “state of the union”. To steal from a played out United Negro College Fund commercial, “We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been.” So, on with the show. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

11th Mar2010

Don’t Wake Me Up If I’m Dreamin’

by Will

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OK, so my love for California Dreams has been documented on this site before. That said, I pretty much thought I was alone in the CD fan camp. That’s when Jimmy Fallon came along and rocked my shit.

About a year ago, Jimmy Fallon took over Conan’s job, as the host of Late Night. Nobody really knew what to expect, as his SNL work was decent, but his movies had been terrible. As he took over the position, it was clear that his tenure would be quirky and off the wall.

As an example of this quirkiness, Jimmy decided that one of his first goals would be to organize a Saved By The Bell cast reunion. After all, it was the 20th anniversary of the show, and he wanted to pay tribute to a show we had all watched back in the day. Well, he got everyone to agree (including an AMAZING skit with Mark Paul Gosselaar AS Zack Morris), except Tiffani Thiessen and Dustin Diamond. Tiffani didn’t want to really be associated with the show, as that’s not what she “wanted to be remembered for today”. Dustin, on the other hand, is just an asshole now. So, no reunion.

Fast forward to last Thursday night: Jimmy’s been spending all week celebrating his 1 year anniversary, and he mentions his inability to reunite the cast. It was unfortunate, HOWEVER, he has gotten the next best thing. Without any promos or prior announcement (besides a twitter spoiler from a TV insider), Jimmy has managed to reunite the cast of California Dreams!

They all come out onstage, most of them looking great. Not only does Jimmy let each one give an update on what they’ve been up to, but then he had them perform the theme song! I just about died. In any case, I’ve always got an opinion, so here were my thoughts on the reunion:

-As great as it was to see everyone, not everyone was present. They were missing Lorena Costa (Diana Uribe) and Sly’s cousin, Mark Winkle (Aaron Jackson). It may seem insignificant, but these were 2 regular characters. Not only did the band practice in Lorena’s loft for the majority of the series, but she was also co-band manager with Sly. Plus, she was the rotating love interest whenever the guys got sick of Kelly Packard. Mark was the band’s keyboard player and handled vocals. His character was a bit of a whiny bitch, but he was still a Dream.

-Brent Gore, it was good to see you! As leader of the Dreams, Matt Garrison, Brent left the show after the 2nd season. He looked good, but he kinda looked like Aging Rock Star (think Rick Springfield).

-William James Jones, as drummer, Tony Wicks. Acting hadn’t been so kind to WJJ after California Dreams, as he was only getting cameo roles on shows like Living Single. He looked good, though, and it was great to hear that he’s got a wife and kids at home.

-Jay Anthony Franke, as mysterious heartthrob, Jake Summers. Basically, The Fonz of the Dreams. Oh, Jake, Jake, Jake…it was a brave move coming on TV. There were a lot of expectations, and I’m not sure they were met. He’s gained a bit of weight, and he’s bald. He was still kinda mysterious. Looked a bit like Duff from Ace of Cakes, though…He’s living in Australia with his wife, and they just shot a pilot. Lord knows what it’s about, as he didn’t elaborate. That said, he clearly wants the world to know about it. So there.

-Heidi Noelle Lenhardt, as Jenny Garrison. Full disclosure: Growing up, I was IN LOVE with her! She had an amazing voice, and she was just a striking brunette. She left the show after the first season, so she definitely left me wanting more. Seeing her at the reunion, however, was bittersweet.

First of all, she’s blonde now. Not really a fan. Also, it seemed like she was coming in slightly flat on her part of the song, so maybe she hasn’t been singing much these days. Anyway, I did love the tongue ring she was rocking!

-Kelly Packard, as Tiffany Smith. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much from her. She’s certainly been the most active, as she went on to Baywatch, and co-hosted Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Like Heidi, she said she’s taking care of her family, but mentioned that she had a movie coming out soon. It seemed almost like she was shy, and I felt she should’ve said more since she’s been doing more.

-Jennie Kwan, as exchange student Samantha Woo. She was so cute and nervous, but she was also gracious. Though she didn’t mention it, she was also a member of girl pop group Nobody’s Angel (you’ve seen ‘em. They were on that Boy Meets World episode at that diner. Remember?). She was also the voice of Suki on Avatar: The Last Airbender.

-Michael Cade, as sleazy band manager with the heart of gold, Sylvester “Sly” Winkle. Cade looked good. I’ll give him that. He’s charismatic, and he’s still trying to make the acting thing happen. And he’s pretty ripped, especially for a 37 year old.

-When they performed, I wonder how they decided who would sing what parts. After all, “Matt” and “Jake” sang the same parts during different times in the series, as did “Jenny” and “Sam”. I felt kinda like Heidi should’ve sung more (since I felt she was better, vocally, than Jennie), but I guess it was only fair how they did it, seeing as how Jennie Kwan had been on the show longer.

Anyway, here’s the video so that you can follow along at home:

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